Jewish Terror Doesn't Happen Because of Radical Rabbis, but in Spite of Them

'Inciting rabbis' is a cliché that took root in the 90s after Rabin's assassination, but is irrelevant when it comes to the extreme right in 2015.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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From top left, clockwise: Eviatar Slonim, Yehuda Asraf, Yinon Reuveni and Meir Ettinger.
From top left, clockwise: Eviatar Slonim, Yehuda Asraf, Yinon Reuveni and Meir Ettinger.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum, Gil Eliyahu and Reuters
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Listening to the pundits and politicians over the weekend, one might think an end to Jewish terrorism was within reach: If only the police would investigate those inciting rabbis behind the Jewish extremists, then these Jewish terror attacks would end and order would be restored.

Investigating the “inciting rabbis” is a cliché that took root in the 1990s after the assassination of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. But it is irrelevant when it comes to the extreme right in 2015. The validity of that argument is like the cry to “outlaw the Islamic Movement” – as if terror is the idea of a right-wing religious leader who uses his ignorant believers to realize his goal, and not something that grew out of broader, religious-social-political conditions.

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh pictured talking to his supporters in 2010. The likes of Ginsburgh and Dov Lior may spout racist bile, but they're not behind the latest wave of Jewish terror.Credit: Nir Kafri

Today’s Jewish terror doesn’t happen because of the rabbis. It is a protest against the rabbis, staged by young Jewish extremists. They protest by their attire, their language, their sidelocks and their attitude to the current reality. They regard the rabbis as too moderate and willing to compromise. They consider rabbis Dov Lior and Yitzchak Ginsburgh – whose names are whispered in the television studios as the arch-terrorists of our generation – as moderates because they don’t back violence.

The problem with the Jewish extremists of today is not the places they study, but the fact that they don’t study. If they were students in Lior’s much-maligned Nir Yeshiva in Kiryat Arba instead of wandering the hilltops of the West Bank, probably they wouldn’t have gone out and set fire to a family home in the dark of night.

The proof is crystal clear: None of Lior’s students are involved in the current terror activities. If he were to teach this, his students would probably follow his teachings. But that is not his way. Not today.

The current wave of Jewish terrorism began with far-right activist Meir Ettinger’s idea of rebellion – not with the support of Rabbi Ginsburgh, but to the contrary. In recent years, Ginsburgh has changed direction. True, the “price tag” attacks – anti-Arab hate crimes – emerged from his school in Yitzhar, where rabbis promoted the idea and even published a detailed operational guide. But over the past three years, Ginsburgh has invested his efforts in the Derech Chaim Movement, which is intended to crown a king by peaceful means.

Ettinger, meanwhile, allegedly believes a king must be crowned by means of attacks, which will lead to the collapse of the Israeli government, so he left Yitzhar and established terror cells in the hills. Ginsburgh came out against last summer’s deadly arson attack at the Dawabsheh family home in Duma, and said so in Gal Einai, a Hebrew-language pamphlet on the weekly Torah portion.

Ginsburgh and Lior have a long history of flirting with and encouraging Jewish terror. But that belongs to the past, not the present wave. They do hold nauseatingly racist views, but the barbs against them are exaggerated: You don’t have to be a religious Zionist rabbi to hold racist views and a sense of Jewish superiority over the Arab people. That is a common view in Israel.

Yosef Haim Ben-David, who burned Mohammed Abu Khdeir to death in July 2014, did not grow up in the religious Zionist movement. Nor did the minor who stabbed several Palestinians in Dimona last October. Neither did Shlomo Pinto, who mistakenly stabbed a Jewish man in Kiryat Ata that same month.

Ginsburgh and Lior’s students, who imbibe their racism with gusto, may share their worldview but understand that burning and killing Arabs is not the way. There are codes in the religious Zionist movement that are not always understood by those who do not know its nuances. It is like Orthodox people who do not understand the secular code, where the wearing of a short skirt is not an invitation to have sex.

Meir Ettinger, accused of being leader of violent Jewish underground, in Nazareth court, August 4, 2015.Credit: AFP

To deal with Jewish terror, the level of law enforcement must dramatically increase. All the suspects in the Duma killing are known to the police and the Shin Bet security service from other cases. It is even likely that some past suspicions against them are justified. If they had been incarcerated on more minor charges, three members of the Dawabsheh family might still be alive today.

Anyone committing acts of Jewish terror starts out with small infringements. When he doesn’t get caught and makes it through the Shin Bet interrogations, he starts to develop skills and a sense of impunity from the law. The police are undertaking a Sisyphean task, but they have not enjoyed enough success.

Perhaps solving the Duma case, including the Shin Bet’s alleged use of torture on the suspects, will be used as a deterrent by the authorities. But it is still too soon to judge the effects of the torture on the motivation for terror. The way to deal with terror is to stop terrorist activity. Investigating rabbis might make Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Galon happy, but it is not connected to today’s reality.

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